Suit Up, Jump on a Magic Carpet, and Fly Down the Rabbit Hole into the New Disney Universe Adventure! (Review)

Our Rating
out of 5.0

This game was reviewed on the Xbox 360.

Since the advent of colour in film, Disney has produced some of the most fantastic and magical worlds of all time, whether they’re kingdoms in faraway places, jungles, forests, secret worlds hidden behind doors or down rabbit holes, there’s been something for just about everyone. Now, with Disney Universe, Disney Interactive Media has given people a chance to explore some of the most iconic backdrops from both classic and modern Disney and Pixar movies, including Pirates of the Caribbean, The Lion King, Aladdin, Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, Wall-E, and Monsters Inc.

In Disney Universe, you’re one of the lucky people who’ve been chosen to try out a new virtual world where you can partake in the adventures of various Disney movies. VIC, your Virtual Informal Cube tourguide, ensures visitors that this experience is extremely safe, allowing you to enjoy the thrills and chills with none of the dangers. Unfortunately, there wouldn’t be much of a game if everything was rainbows and puppy-tails. The system gets hacked with a virus, which then turns the game’s bots against the guests, and results in a personality schism for VIC.  Sometimes, he is your helpful and lovable guide, while others, he’s the megalomaniac HEX.  It’s up to you (and your friends) to stay in the game, rescue all of the other guests, and defeat the malicious HEX.

Since you’re in a virtual world, you’re represented by an avatar, which you can then suit up in one of 45 available classic and contemporary Disney/Pixar costumes. In addition to creating a cute dress-up factor to this game, each outfit comes with its own weapon which can be upgraded four times. So, gear up and navigate your avatar through the perilous worlds of Disney Universe.

In this action-adventure game, you’re able to play the campaign either as a single player or in local multiplayer with up to three other people. The gameplay is truly dynamic in that it scales difficulty and objectives to suit the number of players in a given round. While this locks out people from dropping in or out mid-game, it makes for a noticeably different experience each time you revisit a given level.

As the world of Disney Universe is in a virtual guest center, your character has many different movie-themed worlds to choose from for exploration. Although you start off in the Pirates of the Caribbean world for a tutorial round, the subsequent worlds are ripe for the picking – you can unlock them in any order, as long as you have the 2000 in-game gold to do so. Each movie world has three stages, which are then broken down into sub-levels. The main mission in each world is to rescue the guests held hostage by HEX and his evil, red-eyed bots. Players are spoon-fed objectives one at a time, which help you to progress to the end of the stage. It’s obvious that Disney Interactive Media had the little ones in mind when making this game, as there are plenty of in-game tips, such as the bouncy, sparkly arrows pointing players towards items and/or directions that will help complete any given task, and the yellow Y hovering over items that need to be used or picked up.

However, while the game tries to give you any and everything to make your day easier, HEX’s minions have made it their sole purpose to make this day your most difficult.  These bots will appear out of nowhere (usually with red pixelated areas on the ground signaling their arrival), and mob-attack your hero.  They’ll whack you with weapons, shoot at you, drag much-needed items away, steal your gold, and ridicule your demise (yes, they totally point and laugh at you while you sway and collapse)!

As an additional avenue to jeer at you, HEX will provide arcade challenges each round.  After completing some of the level’s objectives, you’ll usually see a little red arcade machine pop up, all innocuous-like.  You can tell that the developers and producers had a field day brainstorming ideas for these mini-games.  Some of the challenges range from saving ragdolls, beating a certain amount of enemies within 30 seconds, eluding dropping bombs or firestorms, etc. If you win the games, you’ll get more gold, whereas if you fail, you just get heckled at by HEX before he sends more minions to attack you.

Fortunately for you, VIC will occasionally drop power-ups that boost your attacks (e.g. laser-guns and storm clouds that will electrify your enemies) or help you obtain more gold (such as a drill to dig for gold, or a magnet that will attract all coins in the vicinity). Alternatively, when VIC goes buh-bye to be replaced by HEX, you’ll find curses that will turn you into a basketball or boot, to name a couple of things. Each side has 12 power-ups in total. In a co-operative game, the A.I. will gauge how each player is doing and will send curses towards the players doing well, and power-ups to help the other players, in an attempt to balance the game.

While you should definitely work together with other players to achieve goals, this game definitely encourages a fair bit of competition.  In multi-player, gold isn’t split evenly: what you pick up is yours alone.  Also, if you’re the impish sort, you can take advantage of the fact that you can push your teammates off of ledges/cliffs, attack them with your weapon, or even rub off your curses onto them instead of your enemies.  However, be warned: at the end of the level, everyone is ranked – and you might be surprised with the results if you spent the entire time picking up gold instead of helping your team.

Players will find the controls to be pretty intuitive: use the left stick to navigate your character, the A button for jumping, and the X button for attacking.  It’s extremely simple (again, they had to keep the kiddies in mind when creating the control scheme), and if players are ever lost, there are the on-screen pointers to help you along your way.  Also, occasionally, you’ll find items that you will have to use, which is a quick click of the Y button. Although some of these objects are pretty straightforward (e.g. using a sword to toggle the levers in the Pirates of the Caribbean world), others include numerous animals that you can ride, Duck-like paddle boats, or even cannons. While I loved the quirky design of being able to jump onto different devices/mammals, I found that navigating them with the Left Stick was a bit cumbersome.  This was especially true for the cannons and paddle-boats, as I would struggle with getting them to the desired location.  It was extremely frustrating trying to aim the cannons at targets when the controls didn’t seem like they wanted to cooperate with me!

Minor gameplay issues can be completely forgiven, however, when you take in the sheer beauty of Disney Universe. The amount of detail that went into the graphics is simply astounding – no wonder it took 2.5 years to make!  The visuals are a real treat – each sub-level has a different backdrop, giving you a variety of iconic scenes from the respective movies.  Also, the levels are done in layers, so that you have the foreground where you run around and explore, but then in the background you’ll see into the world beyond.  For example, in the Lion King world, you’ll see a vast expanse of African land, with Pride Rock off in the distance, and wildlife going about their daily business.  Or, in the Aladdin world, you may see the slums of Agrabah beyond your area while you explore rooftops and the bazaars.  The visual depth in each level helps draw players into the game, inviting you to lose yourself into the seemingly real worlds that are painted before you.

Similarly, the characters within the game are done in such a way that they all have their own personalities.  Leave them to their own devices, and your avatars will start dancing around, making faces, and basically creating a good time for themselves – as if they couldn’t care less if you were there or not.  The animations are so smooth, the motions sleek, and expressions so believable that it’s hard not to fall in love with these mischievous little cartoons.  This also holds true with the evil bots, all of whom change with the scenery and will fit into the world as that movie’s villains.  For example, in Aladdin, the bots are dressed up as the Sultan’s guards, or in the Lion King, they’re dressed up like hyenas or vultures.

Also, each cutscene (during loading screens) stars HEX’s minions, showcasing their antics.   It’s quite entertaining to watch the in-fighting between these bots, and witnessing their ‘uh-oh!’ moments is a blast! For example, you can’t help but laugh when one of the Generals rearranges his crew of Sultan Guard bots, and the camera pulls back to show that they’ve been set up like bowling pins – and a bomb is being used as the bowling ball!  Again, Disney has packaged evil in such a cute wrapping that it’s hard not to like the little buggers – even as you’re whacking them to smithereens.

In true Disney fashion, music and sound effects play a huge role in the grand scheme of things.  Every little thing has a sound associated with it, from the Mickey-themed gold that seems to giggle at you when they’re collected, to the musical chime that you hear when directional arrows are pointing you to the right objective. The evil bots have computer-like voices when they chortle and say ‘uh-oh’, while your avatars sound like little mischief-makers.  Your characters all sound adorable whenever they open their mouths to either laugh at their own pranks, grunt when they’re knocked down, or cry “Mommy!” when they die.  Disney’s done such a wonderful job with the sound effects that it’s like you’re watching a movie that you’re controlling, and it helps immerse the players into the game.

Likewise, the music helps to set the tone of the levels.  The songs always fit in with the theme of the world that you’re in – it definitely helps that they’re usually a revamp of the original movie’s tunes.  For example, in Aladdin, you have the first few bars of “Arabian Nights” retrofitted into a loop, creating fun background music that adds to the entire atmosphere of the world that you’re in.  You can also unlock new music by finding all three collectible items in each world.  Most of the music is extremely upbeat, giving you the energy to scamper about the different worlds for hours on end. You’ll even see your avatars running in place to build up that battle-energy when they first appear on-screen, and you’ll be right there with them, bopping along with the music.

Overall, Disney Universe is a grand time to be had by everyone – young and old!  It’s perfectly fine to play this game solo – but what’s the fun in that if you can bring your friends and family in too? The one frustrating issue can be entirely overlooked when you look at the entire package: the spectacular visuals and music that hold true to the movies, magical sounds, hilariously whacky characters (both good and evil), and an amazingly dynamic gameplay experience.  If you’re a fan of Disney, family fun, or cartoons, Disney Universe is a must have this holiday season!

Disney Universe gets a 4.75/5.0

Our Rating
out of 5.0

About This Post

November 10, 2011 - 9:38 am